Pacers Drop a Winnable Game to the Knicks

The Pacers lost a tough one 98-92 to the Knicks this afternoon. Neither team was ever in control until the Knicks put it away late when Amar’e Stoudemire turning it on coincided with the whole Pacers offense turning it off. While Amar’e scored 6 of his team’s final 7 points (on his way to 26 overall), the entire Indiana squad could only manage to score 2 points in the final 3:47 of the game.

That final Pacers’ bucket came on jumper by Darren Collison, who maintained the offensive assertiveness he showed all game (but just couldn’t convert in the clutch otherwise. For Indiana, it was an unfortunate, yet somewhat poetic, ending to the game.

Their best quarter was the first and this was largely due to them being aggressive. Collison set the tone. The game’s first two points were the result of Darren pushing the ball hard up court and taking it to the rim. The next trip down was similar. Collison rushed up court and got into the paint. He couldn’t create a good look for himself, but he kicked it out, creating a very good three-point attempt for Mike Dunleavy, Jr. That shot didn’t go down, but the Pacers retained possession and Granger hit a three. Collison would also hit a three himself shortly thereafter, giving the team a 10-7 lead along while showing the Knicks that they were ready to force the action despite the one o’clock tip-off.

By the time it was over, Darren had a season-high 17 field goal attempts to go along with 22 points (plus 6 assist, 5 boards and 2 steals), marking only the second time he has eclipsed the 20-point mark this year. (The last came on November 9). Too bad that it was his final few misses that kept the Pacers from putting any points on the board late.

This isn’t a bad thing; his intentions were good and there wasn’t anyone else doing anything effectively. The Pacers only put up 15 points in the fourth quarter on 7-for-23 shooting (30.4%). Someone had to do something. Darren took charge and managed to drive into the paint twice. This would have likely worked out better if Ronny Turiaf had not been there to meet him both times.

Still, I have routinely criticized Danny Granger and others for settling for a jumper after a big guy switched out on them on the perimeter. So I have to give Collison credit for going at Turiaf when he was trying to cover DC at the top of the key. Darren couldn’t create enough space to get a good shot off though. And the next time he did get to the hoop, Turiaf smacked it out the sky. Happens.

Between Turiaf’s hustle and Amar’e’s big buckets, MSG was going nuts. As some of you know, I live in New York so I was there and can confirm that, starting with Stoudemire’s back-to-back blocks around the six-minutes-to-go mark, the World’s Most Famous Arena was rocking. No one is ever going to confuse Amar’e with a great defender, but the way he contested Brandon Rush at the hoop was impressive. Even more impressive? The fact that he inadvertently saved the ball to Danny Granger then recovered from falling out of bounds in time to block the bejesus out of Danny’s dunk attempt. The roof was blown off.

A Wilson Chandler three-pointer would re-ignite the crowd a few minutes later and then back-to-back Amare’ buckets starting at the 2:43 mark would make them lose their minds again. It was pretty clear that this game was a wrap. Nice day to be in the Garden — for Knicks fans.

Getting back to Rush, I thought he played rather well — at least in the first half — despite him finishing with an ugly 6-for-17 shooting afternoon. He missed some open looks, and that’s never good, but it is a forgivable offense. (This should not be confused with the team’s overall unforgivable offense.) More important than missing or making jumpshots (he was 0-for-5 on threes), however, is that Brandon was aggressive with the ball.

At one point early in the second quarter, he hit a jumper that he helped create and he followed that up with a drive-and-dish to Solomon Jones for an open shot on the next possession. Then the next trip down, he drove again, forcing the defense to collapse in the paint. He tried to find Solo again on the baseline. It wasn’t the best pass, and it ended up out of bounds, but that looked to be more due to the bad hands Solo.

About a minute and a half later, he finished a slick, driving reverse layup. And on the next trip, he dribbled hard at Chandler, breaking his ankles to the point that he fell down. Unfortunately, he passed off before he realized Wilson was collapsing, but after quickly fading behind the arc, he demanded the ball and got the pass in time to pop off a good shot. He missed. But both the aggressive drive attempt and him calling for the ball back for the shot are good things. An assertive Brandon is a better Brandon.

Maybe I’m over-rating one six-minute stretch, but these are the things that Brandon has to do more often if he wants to become a more complete player in this league. So positives like this are a good sign. I mean … watch … Next game he probably won’t dribble the ball one time though.

That’s how this works with Rush.

Danny obviously did some really good things this afternoon. He scored 19 first-half points on 7-for-15 shooting. He also grabbed 10 boards in the half and finished with what-has-to-be-a-career-high 17 (looking for confirmation). Six of his first-half boards were offensive and he wasn’t alone; Indy grabbed 9 in the first quarter, 15 in the first half and 21 overall. This led to a 99-73 field goal attempt advantage for the Pacers, but their 37.4% shooting and their 19-40 free-throw attempt deficit counteracted the benefits of all the extra shots.

Getting back to Danny, his first-half success didn’t translate to after the break, as illustrated by his 2-for-8 shooting in the final two quarters. This, combined with the curious decision by Jim O’Brien to only give Roy Hibbert about 5 minutes after half time (we’ll get to this in another post) led to an offense that Danny generously, even by his own admission, characterized as “sputtering.”

The locker room after the game reflected the disappointment of another poor offensive outing and another squandered opportunity to get a badly needed win on the road. “It’s frustrating right now,” said Collison. “We can’t get used to losing.”

I asked Granger whether he is concerned that such frustration, particularly given how many young guys are in the rotation, will continue to build and keep the team from regaining its early season success. He seemed worried to a degree, but said that it was his job to make sure everyone stays positive and that the young guys don’t let the losses weigh on their mind. “You have to have a short memory,” said Granger.

That’s all well and good, but I fear it will be increasingly difficult for a 14-18 team that has to play San Antonio, Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago in four of its next five games. It those games go how I expect them to, Danny might need one of those Men in Black mind-erasers by the time mid-January rolls around.

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Tags: Amare Stoudemire Brandon Rush Danny Granger Darren Collison Ronny Turiaf Roy Hibbert Wilson Chandler

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